August 07, 2011

The Israeli Spring and the Tea Party

I rarely if ever comment on Israeli domestic politics, and I would not be so bold to offer comment on something like this had I not been testing this hypothesis out on people since I arrived. But there is an interesting similarity between the popular protests in Israel right now and the Tea Party in the United States.

On the surface, of course, the two movements could not be more different. The Tea Party is a movement that wants to limit the size and scope of the U.S. government. There is nothing "socialist" about the Tea Party -- quite the opposite, in fact. The popular protests in Israel, by contrast, are in part agitating for a return to the kind of old-school socialist policies that Israel had in large part left behind over the past few decades. At the least, they are a protest against the capitalist system that has enriched Israel but squeezed the Middle Class through rising prices.

But if the two movements are opposites in terms of motivation, they are similar in their effect. In the United States, because the Republican Party refuses to ever raise taxes and the Democratic Party refused to cut entitlements, the only thing left to cut out of the budget was discretionary spending -- especially defense spending. In Israel, the popular protests here have thus far declined to demand the government end its subsidies to the ultra-Orthodox or its investments in infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territiories. The government, meanwhile, could not cut those subsidies and investments even if it wanted to without breaking apart its own coalition. The effect of all this is to put a squeeze on the one place the Israeli government can go looking for to find more money -- the Ministry of Defense.

So in Israel and in the United States, the political effects of two very different movements has been to make people in the defense establishments of both countries very nervous. That alone makes these protests worth watching for anyone looking at long-term security developments in the Middle East.